Cape Lookout

  • Distance: 5 miles 
  • Hike Type: Out-and-Back 
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation Gain930′ – most on the way back
  • Trail Condition: Maintained, but muddy. Lots of exposed roots and some exposed edges 
  • Trail Highlights: Pacific Ocean views, coastal forest full of ferns, kinnikinnick, hairy manzanita, salmon berry, evergreen + red huckleberry, salal, Sitka spruce + western hemlock. Views of: the beach, Cape Kiwanda, Cascade Head, Cape Foulweather, Cape Meares + Maxwell Point. History: B-17 Bomber crashed near here in 1943 – a plaque can be found along the trail
  • Trailhead(s): Cape Lookout Trailhead
  • Pass NeededNo
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, leashed and within 6’
  • Crowd Level: Crowded, on weekdays and weekends
  • Recommended Footwear: Hiking boots/shoes recommended, very muddy
  • Vehicle Clearance Needed: Low
  • My Favorite Season To Go: Winter

Jump ahead to the trail description.

Walk through the thick Oregon Coast forest to expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and coastline. Some would even say that this is one of the muddiest trails in the area. Be prepared to get muddy! 

This is a very busy trail, and for good reason. Lush ferns and giant trees hug the trail. While shorter flora allow for endless views of the ocean and rugged coast.

Animals 

  • Gray whales during migrating seasons – spring & fall.
  • Gulls
  • Pelicans
  • Seals
  • Sea lions
  • Various seabirds
  • Much more!
  • Orcas and dolphins have been reported from this trail, although a rare sight.

Flora 

  • Common Polypody 
  • Evergreen huckleberry 
  • Hairy manzanita 
  • Kinnikinnick 
  • Red huckleberry 
  • Salal 
  • Salmonberry 
  • Sitka spruce 
  • Sword fern 
  • Western hemlock
  • and more!

History 

Along this peninsula on August 1, 1943 there was a fatal 200-mile hour crash on foggy afternoon. 500 west of the plaque. The 10-man crew was scheduled for a navigational training from Pendleton Field to Cape Disappointment in a *B-17 manufactured in Seattle. 

Originally the bomber was supposed to be at 20,000 feet, but thick fog caused confusion around 50-100 feet. Once the cape came into view around 900 feet, it was too late. 2/3rds and 9 men stayed on the cape’s cliff, while the other 1/3 and 1 other person fell off the south edge and into the ocean. When the bomber crashed the nose was wedged between 2 trees. And aviation gas sprayed around the area causing fires to break out. The 100-foot wings broke into pieces, parts, equipment and the crew were scattered. 9 of the 10 men passed away.

Only survivor, Wilbur Perez, said in an interview that he was thrown out of the nose bubble and through the trees. When he came to, he was hanging upside down in a tree by his bootlace – soaked in flammable gas. Perez freed himself from his boot and rolled down the steep cliff to get away from a nearby fire. Luckily he landed on a propeller stuck on the side and secured himself there with his belt for 36 hours. In an interview with Salem-News, Perez described the horror of listening to fellow crew members cry for help for multiple hours before succumbing to their injuries. 

6 miles to the east, south of the cape, Charles Schmid heard the crashed while manning a fire lookout (Buzzard Butte). Schmid called the Army in Portland and the U.S. Forest Service, but was told that no planes were missing and ignored. He continued to call for hours. It wasn’t until the fog lifted at 8:55pm, when Pacific City residents called in fires on the cape, that the Coast Guard started their search – about 10 hours after the crash. A search party drove on the beach to the base of Cape Lookout, where 3 men climbed the trail to the top. When they arrived at the summit around 1:00am radios were out of range and flashlights began to die. The wreckage was so bad the crew was unable to figure out who the plane belonged to. Perez was finally found and brought down on a stretcher, but no other bodies were recovered.

*B-17: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, 4 engine heavy bomber built in the 1930s for the U.S. Army Air Corps. 

B-17 bomber

The Trail

Start at Cape Lookout Trailhead and walk behind the trailhead sign. The north trail is closed and fenced off. The trail is easy to follow as there is only 1 trail junction.

trailhead

Not far down the path you’ll reach the trail junction – marked Cape Trail & South Beach. Go straight, following Cape Trail. You will start to lose elevation and becomes muddier. Keep your eyes open for exposed roots as well – you don’t want to roll an ankle!

trail junction

You’ll be able to see the ocean through the trees, but around half a mile (0.5-mile) the trees disappear for a clear view of the Pacific and the beach below. Cape Foulweather, Cascade Head, and Cape Kiwanda can also be seen down the coastline.

first view of the beach below

Shortly after the B-17 memorial plaque will pop up on the wall (on your right, 0.6-mile mark). It gets more exposed here, but the thick flora creates a short wall.

view from the plaque spot

Reenter the forest and lose a bit more elevation down a switchback. There is large, uprooted tree on the side of the trail that’s fun to look at! Boardwalks start to pop up to help cross the muddy sections, but most of them are missing boards. At the 1-mile mark you gain some more elevation, with another viewpoint at the first switchback (1.2 miles mark). A tree with large, whimsically shaped limbs marks the switchback – seen below. To the north you can see Maxwell Point and Cape Meares.

Walk up another switchback into the forest with a small boardwalk. The elevation gain doesn’t last long, but the mud does. The forest starts thinning out, and at 1.6 miles a wall of spruce thickets and ferns touch brush against your side. There is a view to the south, on your right. Go through another short pocket of forest before coming across a large section of exposed roots and another small view. 

Climb up the exposed roots and come to a boardwalk. There will be a fallen tree at the end of it. When we hiked this section water was over the middle section of the boardwalk. Walk through more salal and evergreen huckleberry thickets and boardwalks, with an occasional view. The elevation loss continues.

The trail is now along the edge of the peninsula, so the views come and go more often. There is a small section that is extremely exposed with a steep drop off and exposed roots – so watch your step! After this spot the path goes back further from the cliff. Trees become low hanging and the trail gets pretty narrow for just a short bit. There is one more switchback with a little bit of elevation gain at the 2-mile marker.

Drop in elevation again to another exposed section. This time salal creates an ankle height “barrier.” For the next 0.3/0.4 miles the trail cuts in and out of the forest with awesome views. When you finally see a cable fence along the cliff, you’re there! (2.5 miles) Hairy manzanita and kinnikinnick (bear berry) are what you see along the cliffside. Walk along the edge of the peninsula and take in the view. There is a bench at the end to set your stuff down on, if it’s not already being used. The ocean is about 350’ below you at this point. Don’t forget to scan the ocean for sea life!

Return the way you came and gain all the elevation you just lost! Hey, at least you have some views to keep you distracted. 

Directions 

45°20’28.8″N 123°58’28.0″W

  • From Portland, OR: 85.3 miles, about 1h 40m drive. 
  • From Vancouver, WA: 92.8 miles, about 1h 50m drive.  
  • From Salem, OR: 71.1 miles, about 1h 30m drive.

Personal Trail Acorns

  • Favorite part: peek-a-boo views of the Pacific
  • Thorn of the trail: amount of mud
  • Trail company: Nick
  • Adventure date: 12/29/21
  • Time on trail: 2h47m25s – 33’25″/mile

Looking for other hikes along the Oregon Coast? Explore these suggestions below!

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